Polar opposites: Global warming critics cheer Antarctica ice growth

Arctic ice on Sept. 16, 2012.

On Wednesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado reported that "Arctic sea ice cover likely melted to its minimum extent for the year on September 16," and that this "summer minimum" was "now the lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record." The implications were frightening, the center's director said in a statement:

“We are now in uncharted territory,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”

The news did not get a lot of coverage. The Washignton Post published an opinion piece raising questions about how the record ice melt might affect weather elsewhere in the world. Seth Borenstein of the AP wrote a disturbing piece about the observation, noting that summer Arctic sea ice now covers about half the area it covered in the 1980s. Deborah Zabarenko at Reuters also covered it, using the comment above in her piece, too.

Forbes magazine published a post by James Taylor (not the singer-songwriter) that began this way:

Antarctic sea ice set another record this past week, with the most amount of ice ever recorded on day 256 of the calendar year (September 12 of this leap year). Please, nobody tell the mainstream media or they might have to retract some stories and admit they are misrepresenting scientific data.

Why the focus on Antarctic ice? And what does it mean that Arctic ice is shrinking and Antarctic ice is growing? Are Serreze's fears overblown? Steven Goddard wrote a post along similar lines at his blog, Real Science, in which he sneered at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. (Taylor confined his sneering to the mainstream media.)

So what's the deal?

Natalie Wolchover at Live Science sorts it out for us with further discussion with Serreze. "Antarctic sea ice hasn't seen these big reductions we've seen in the Arctic. This is not a surprise to us," he tells her. "Some of the skeptics say 'Well, everything is OK because the big changes in the Arctic are essentially balanced by what's happening in the Antarctic.' This is simply not true."

He goes on to explain why it isn't true, and you can read the details in her story. The Antarctic sea ice levels do not, she says in her headline, "disprove global warming."

-Paul Raeburn

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